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Microsoft wants the Xbox 360 to be the only set-top box you need to have sat next to your TV. And it’s going a long way down the path to achieving that with its latest line-up of TV services coming to an Xbox 360 near you soon.

Games Consoles Plus

This generation of home games consoles are more than just for playing games on. All three current models – the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii – can be hooked up to the Internet and turned into entertainment hubs in your living room, delivering digital media down the tubes and on to your television.

This has been going on for several years now, with Microsoft and Sony continually upping the ante in terms of the number of partners, and quality and range of content. And Microsoft is taking things to a whole new level with its latest effort on the Xbox 360.


Xbox 360 TV

A subscription-based TV service for the Xbox 360 was first rumored before E3 back in June. But that hasn’t come to pass. Perhaps the rumors were just slightly off, or perhaps Microsoft wasn’t able to secure the deals needed to make a subscription worth paying. Either way, we’ve ended up with something else. But it’s still good.

Microsoft has struck licensing deals with around 40 broadcasters, many in the U.S., others covering 20 countries. Content partners coming to the Xbox 360 include Bravo, ESPN, HBO, Syfy, BBC, Canal+, FOXTEL, MediaSet, and ZDF.

These content partners will provide some but not all of the programming via the Microsoft console, with gamers able to use Kinect to browse through the list and choose the channel they want to watch. The caveat is the need for an Xbox Live Gold subscription, and subscriptions to the individual content partners. So while some will be free and available to all, others will be locked to the majority of people.

Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, said:

“Today’s announcement is a major step toward realizing our vision to bring you all the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, made easy. Combining the world’s leading TV and entertainment providers with the power of Kinect for Xbox 360 and the intelligence of Bing voice search will make TV and entertainment more personal, social and effortless.”

Conclusions

The range of channels and broadcasters available on the Xbox 360 after this update is huge, but it’s important to remember this isn’t going to be a replacement for a full cable service, so cord-cutters beware.

Having said that, Microsoft has worked hard to secure deals with industry titans, and Xbox 360 owners will now get to watch TV through their once-humble games console. That’s a hell of a leap from just a few years ago.

 

All eyes will be on Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday as Apple presents its iPhone event, but there’s still a lot of speculation and confusion over what exactly the company will reveal.

Some expect one new iPhone; others expect two. Some say that the next iPhone will besimilar to iPhone 4, while others expect a total revamp.

While nothing is confirmed about the new model of the phone, most are sure about three specifications: a new iPhone will have a faster processor, it will be a "universal phone” that runs on both GSM and CDMA networks and that it will have deeply integrated voice navigation.

All other rumors — it will have a slimmer profile, it will have an NFC chip, it will run on 4G networks, etc. — are a mix of furious speculation and wishful thinking.

The company will also likely pull back the curtain on its next-generation operating system, which users got a peek of at Apple’s June Worldwide Developers’ Conference. The company’s iOS 5 and its iCloud suite of programs will likely send the average consumer even further into the cloud by providing free (and paid) storage space for photos, movies, music, apps — all hooked into Apple’s massive content and entertainment ecosystem.

Other expected announcements include a partnership with Facebook and news about the future of the iPod, which has historically been the focus of Apple’s fall events.

The event will be a test for the company, which hasn’t released a brand-new iPhone in over a year. Apple has built a ton of momentum going into this event, somehow managing to continually break its own handset sales records while simultaneously driving up hype for its next model. Users will have to be impressed with the new handset and Apple’s new operating system to keep the company in that enviable position.

This will also be a test for Apple’s new chief executive, Tim Cook, who will be the main speaker at the event. Cook, who was Apple’s chief operating officer before succeeding Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in August, will have to prove to Apple’s fans that the company hasn’t lost the spark of innovation and excitement that Apple fans — fittingly or not — associate with Jobs.

 

 

This Is How Water Really Works in India

Posted: 26 Sep 2011 08:32 AM PDT

This post was co-written by NextDrop's Jessica Tsai and Madhusudhan B.

NextDrop, which informs residents in India via cell phone about the availability of piped water, has been fortunate enough to have the full and sincere cooperation of Chandru, one of the best valvemen in Hubli. It's incredibly helpful to work with someone so willing to share the know-hows of the water system here, because the on-paper description of the process is much different than what actually goes on.

Chandru let us tag along as he opened and closed a myriad of valves in his water areas, providing service to residents who (after more than 20 years of seeing him around) know him by name. As usual, we learned much more than we expected -- and we're sharing that process of discovery because it's interesting, and even lots of fun.

A day in the life

From what we could tell, Chandru's service period starts with a call from the section officer and lasts around 48 hours. The section officer will tell Chandru that it's his turn to provide water to his residents. This call is actually pretty important, because different valvemen in Hubli take turns providing service to their areas to maintain ample water pressure -- or no one will get water. After this call, Chandru has around 40 valve areas to give water to, each with its own valve. He'll usually open valves for three or four areas at a time, and leave them on for 4-5 hours each.

As we followed Chandru on his rounds, we learned that water pressure is incredibly important for water delivery, and is one of the reasons service is provided erratically at times.

chandru.PNG

Lingaraj Nagar North, for example, is located uphill, so Chandru leaves this valve open for 7-8 hours instead of four. But, because of the pressure needed for the water to reach up the slope, residents in Lingaraj Nagar North only get 3-4 good hours of water (when some other valves have been closed). The distribution within Lingaraj Nagar North itself is also varied -- people living more uphill get less water than those living downhill near the supply. In cases like these, NextDrop can send a notification that the valve has been open, but some residents won't actually get water because of insufficient pressure.

In the opposite case when an area is located more downhill, instead of shortening the time a valve is open, Chandru will only open a valve two-thirds of the way for the same amount of time. This is also to regulate the amount of pressure so that the pipes don't burst due to excess pressure. The pipes are really old. If a customer calls Chandru to complain about lack of water, he can open the valve a little bit more or longer.

We should mention that Chandru doesn't use any fancy instruments to measure the pressure in the pipes underground. He depends on none other than the rod used to open valves -- and his ears! The valve itself is at the end of a small 2-foot deep shaft, reachable only by a rod.

The sound of water

Chandru will put his ear to the end of the rod and gauge the pressure by the sound of water rushing by. It's actually quite loud when the sound travels to the end of the rod. We got to have a listen ourselves.

lake valves.PNG

We also got a tour of the old water tank in between valves.

The tanks have supplied water to all of Hubli for 99 years. Its 100th birthday is next year. The tanks are a pair of 20-foot-deep underground structures that each have a huge valve opening at the bottom, where lake water pushes upwards. The valve openings are about the size of sewage openings in the United States.

These two wheels open the valves, which currently work to drain nearby Unkal Lake.

The goal is to reach the mud at the bottom of the lake for construction, and next monsoon season will fill the lake back up.

Along for the ride

We weren't the only ones shadowing Chandru.

Chandru's been a valveman for over 20 years now -- he's one of the best. So far, he's also only taken two sick days -- in his entire career of working for the water board. The water board makes it a point to have someone shadow Chandru for when he won't be around to run the water delivery for a huge number of people. Ravi, the water board employee who usually repairs aged pipes, was also along for the ride watching Chandru open and close valves for different areas.

There's a lot of information to be learned for this job, but no formal training program. The day-to-day details of running water deliveries often isn't known by those who aren't out in the field. A lot of information gets lost in between. Watching is the best way to learn, which is why we're trying to go out and watch the valvemen ourselves.

What we need to understand is how things currently work, so that we can make it as easy as possible for valvemen to adopt the NextDrop system. To us, it looks like organized chaos. Somehow (we're not quite sure how) progress is being made with text messages and everyday processes. But there's definitely a method to the madness, and we're just starting to understand it. Days like today grant us a lot of insight into how to move forward.

You can read about more of these efforts on our NextDrop blog.


You’re probably sick of hearing about the whole Netflix/Qwikster debacle by now. As am I. So perhaps we should give the last word on the subject (for a week or at the very least) to Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph.

What The Flix?

First, a very brief overview of the situation as it stands:

Netflix has long been transitioning from a DVDs-by-mail company into a streaming video company. In July Netflix separated the two sides of its business so that you chose one or the other for $7.99, which left those who wanted both paying $6 more than they did previously.

Then came the next step of actually spinning the DVD business off and calling it Qwikster. This led to an absolute outcry from Netflix fans, suddenly having to deal with two companies rather than one for their content needs. But despite the complaints many people, myself included, could at least see the logic in the decision, and suggested that perhaps it would be the best decision for the longterm good of the company.


Randolph Remembers A Time When…

It turns out that those on the inside feel the same way, or at least the closest thing to an insider we have yet heard from. Marc Randolph founded Netflix with current CEO Reed Hastings in 1998 and retired in 2004. But not before witnessing the company making the tough decision to stop selling DVDs in order to focus on renting them out instead.

The young Netflix did this despite making 95 percent of its revenue from selling DVDs. People didn’t like the decision, but it helped focus the company towards an ultimate goal for longterm success. There are clear parallels between the decision made back then and the decision made now.

Randolph calls the decision to spin the DVD business off into a new entity called Qwikster “one of the smartest, most disciplined and bravest moves” he has ever seen. And you don’t get a much more resolute endorsement than that.

Conclusions

It’s easy to say Randolph is Hastings’ friend and was therefore always going to take this line. But I don’t think that is the case. Randolph has seen this pioneering strategy work once and clearly feels it will work again. And I happen to agree with him.


YouTube Adds Magisto To Video Toolbox | Automatic Video Editor Enters The Bigtime

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 03:07 PM PDT

Two things are probably key for any tech startup looking to make it beyond the first year: funding, and a partner willing and able to push you into the mainstream. Magisto already has both, despite having been up and running for just a few months, most of it in a closed beta.

Magisto Magic

Magisto is a online video editor unlike any other. Because although there are many already out there that offer a range of tools designed to make the user’s experience as simple as possible, Magisto goes one stage further and does everything automatically.

We covered Magisto in some depth just a few days ago on the news that it was launching to the general public after five months in a closed beta. Helping the Israeli-based company along the way was Li Ka-Shing, who put part of the $5.5 million up that represents Series B funding.

But Magisto had potentially bigger news under its belt.


Magisto On YouTube

The Magisto video editing tool is now available directly through YouTube, with the Google-owned company having added its automagic editor to its Create page. We covered this new effort to get more people than ever to create videos in March, when I even had a go at creating my own animation using GoAnimate.

Magisto has been added to a section of the site designed for absolute beginners, and is therefore totally separate from the new in-built YouTube editor which went live earlier this month.

In effect, YouTube users now have a full range of options open to them when uploading a video. They can manually or automatically edit videos, or they can create from scratch using the tools available on the Create page.

Conclusions

These kind of partnerships are good for all involved. YouTube gets a new tool for its users to play with, Magisto gets exposure and a chance to offer users paid features, and users of the online video site get a new weapon in their arsenal to create compelling videos.

[Via TechCrunch]